I Beg to Differ….

It’s been difficult to write, read, speak, or think lately as polarizing opinions continue to wreak havoc on my country and my heart. God taught me the importance of differing differently this week.

As Christians, we are not supposed to be fused to a particular ideology, theology, doctrine, or opinion. We are simply to be who God created us to be. It is the sincerest form of praise to Him and the most beautiful witness of His creation and His love for us. As friends, we are supposed to love one another as we are without having to agree on everything. As family, we love unconditionally and without the need to control. Love is not about control; it is as natural as breathing when it is real. When it is controlled, it is like being on a ventilator. You may be breathing, but it isn’t natural or comfortable!

Each of us was created to be different by a Creator Who knows us better than we know ourselves. He could have made us all exactly the same, but He knew better. He could, and can, make us all love Him and one another as He desires; but He knows that would showcase His power rather than His love. God doesn’t want control because He already has it. He wants holiness. That word doesn’t mean perfect; it means maturity, ripeness, readiness to be who He created us to be. Self differentiation allows us to love as God loves.

Fusion is the easiest way to connect, so it is the way most connect. Individuals get lost, and polarization abounds. Our world is fusing and fighting in ways that break God’s heart. It’s bad enough to fuse, but to use His name as the agent of such fusing is inherently wrong. It’s getting more and more difficult to differ, and that hinders differentiation and creates division. God helped me see how differing differently can actually help with the process of differentiation.

I used to feel the need to be who those around me wanted me to be. That need caused me to adapt a Pollyanna approach to living and loving in community. Make everyone happy, and they will love you. All will be right in the world. The world around me will be much more pleasant, and life will be much simpler. That didn’t pan out, so I decided to try being myself and forgetting about whether or not others like me or not. That doesn’t mean being mean; it just means saying what I believe in a respectful way.

God gave me three loving sisters who have, do, and always will love me just as I am. They have surrounded and tried to protect me from the harsh realities of this world all of my life. Their love was a safe harbor for my heart, but God knew I needed more than a harbor. He sent a dear friend who heard my heart and helped me move away from the harbor and into the open sea. It was very scary at first, but my heart found its sea legs and eventually began to enjoy the freedom a non anxious loving presence brings.

I had a discussion with two folks this week about a subject I didn’t realize we disagreed upon. One showed grace, but the other showed rage. I was a bit unnerved by the anger, but I maintained my opinion while giving room for another opinion. When the conversation ended, two of us were still smiling, but one carried her anger with her. I felt our friendship may have been compromised by our difference of opinion, but I didn’t try to fix or convince. I’ve felt that way often during the past year.

I beg to differ because it is in our differing that we learn and grow and change. I long for the day when we can agree to disagree and move on with our lives. When we cannot disagree, we lose so much more than an argument. We lose the ability to self differentiate. Psychologists, medical doctors, guidance counselors, parents, teachers, and ministers will tell you the ability to be who we are created to be is at the heart of living a happy, healthy life.

God made His feelings about self differentiations very clear to Moses and to us. He is Who He is. He is not going to be who we want Him to be, and that is a beautiful lesson for all of us to follow.

God said to Moses, “IAM-WHO-IAM. Tell the People of Israel, ‘IAM sent me to you.’”(Exodus 3:14)

 

Differentiated Unity??

Differentiated unity may sound like an oxymoron, but it is a beautiful truth I am learning to embrace. I first learned about self-differentiation eight years ago when a friend introduced me to the concept. He used a pencil and a rubber band to help me understand the difference between unhealthy fusion and healthy differentiation. I don’t pretend to be an expert on family systems, but I have learned to discern how being who I am allows me to connect as God desires.

Fusion creates a tight bond, but it is a bond that doesn’t allow movement or growth. It is the type of connection I preferred because there is a sick sort of safety with fusion. It’s concrete walls are a powerful form of protection. Self-differentiation requires letting go and allowing myself and those to whom I connect the room they need to expand, move, explore, and grow.

God is the ultimate example of self-differentiation. He describes Himself as The Great I AM. He is Who He is, and He always will be. He refuses to fuse, but so many Christians refuse to follow His example. It’s easier to fuse to a group or set of beliefs than it is to have a personal relationship with the Creator and those He created. I have struggled with the notion most of my life. My lack of faith caused me to focus upon what I could do for God and others and avoid differentiation.

Doing is, and always will be, much easier than being. Being requires stillness and trust that God knew what He was doing when He created me. I have to admit I have often believed He must have been having an off day when He created me. My early childhood cemented that belief into my head and my heart. I was not like everyone else. I knew this because my father pounded the notion into my body, and my mother whispered it into my spirit. Difference defined and confined my heart, so I and learned to make others happy by doing for them or making them laugh. It worked by all accounts, except for the one God was keeping in my heart.

I learned about self-differentiation in an honest, loving environment where I could be me and still be loved. I loved the freedom of being myself with someone who understood and encouraged, but I didn’t learn how to apply the learning to all aspects of my life until recently. Letting go is the test of self-differentiation, and anyone who has an adult child understands the pain involved in letting someone you love go so they can become their truest self.

As I watched my son love his family and help clean up after our wonderful meal, I was filled with pride. The mark of a great relationship is not how tightly I hold on to those I love, it is in how willing I am to let them go and grow into who they are meant to be. It is like the quote often attributed to Richard Bach, “If you love something, let it go; if it comes back, it’s yours. If it doesn’t, it never was.”

I never felt closer to my son than I did in a quiet moment when we hugged yesterday. I told him it was the best Thanksgiving ever, and he said that they just kept getting better and better. I will not completely understand self-differentiation until I am with God in heaven, but I experienced a sweet taste of it in that beautiful Thanksgiving hug.

The unity God desires does not come from holding on; it comes from letting go. Differentiated unity makes perfect sense to my heart. It took eight years for me to understand it, but that moment when it settled in my heart yesterday was well worth the wait 🙂

 

 

Loving Without Fear

The air conditioning in my new apartment was shutting down each time the temperatures outside went above ninety degrees. For four months, my landlord and the men who installed the unit tried in vain to fix the problem. They replaced parts, put in a new transformer, and tried everything they knew to try with no success. They asked me to send a text the next time the system shut down, so they could see what was going on when it wasn’t working. We were all getting frustrated, and I was giving up on a quick fix of any kind.

The system shut down again last week, so I sent a text and hoped for the best. The solution turned out to be a simple one that left all of us relieved and smiling. The door on the electrical box has a safety feature that shuts the power off if it’s opened while the breaker to the unit is on. The extreme heat was causing the cover on the door to expand and bow out. That created a tiny crack between the door and the box that shut down the system until the attic cooled down in the evening. The guys sealed the door shut with tape, and the system has worked perfectly ever since.

No one understands the danger of opening a door that should not be opened better than an electrician because their lives depend upon it. God used the repair to teach a powerful lesson. Opening a door that is best left shut can create havoc in my heart, as well. I’ve opened doors I should not have opened, and my heart has suffered as a result.

God provides safeguards that keep my heart from being hurt. I can override those safeguards and warnings, or I can seal off my heart the way those men sealed off the door in my air conditioning system. God and I both know that isn’t the best solution. It’s best to be mindful and heed the warning signs if I want to avoid being hurt. Like an electrician’s life, my heart’s safety is at stake if I don’t.

God will not seal the door to my heart, and He doesn’t want me to seal it either. There are no easy solutions when it comes to love, and no one understands that better than God. His lessons leave me feeling disconnected at times, but I know disconnection and differentiation go hand in hand. Change is never easy, especially when it comes to matters of the heart. Like flying from one trapeze to the next, faith will carry me if I forget about fear and remember God’s love is there to catch me when I fall. That allows me to love without fear, and God knows that’s the only way to love.

1 John 4:18 says it much better than I can.

“There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves punishment, and the one who fears is not perfected in love.” (NASB)

Photo Credit: US Hawks

Photo Credit: US Hawks

Attached at the Heart

1 Corinthians 7:29-31 invites me to look at my attachments and see how they affect my focus. Paul isn’t just talking about relationships in his letter to Corinth; he’s talking about accomplishments, regrets, possessions, or anything to which I may be too attached. There’s nothing wrong with a happy marriage, an engaging job, a time of grief, or nice things as long as my heart isn’t attached so tightly that my focus is misdirected.

But let me say this, dear brothers and sisters: The time that remains is very short. So from now on, those with wives should not focus only on their marriage. Those who weep or who rejoice or who buy things should not be absorbed by their weeping or their joy or their possessions. Those who use the things of the world should not become attached to them. For this world as we know it will soon pass away.(NLT)

Unhealthy attachments cause my heart to fuse, and fusion leads to confusion. God isn’t controlling, or I would be a mindless drone in His field or a heartless statue at His feet. God has the power to make me do exactly what He wants, but He will not use His power to make me love or obey Him. He knows obedience is worthless without free will, and love will never be forced or coerced.

Self differentiation is necessary for love to grow as God desires. Fusion appears to forge a powerful bond, but it only confines and defines in negative ways. Self differentiation frees my heart and leads to healthy connections. God is the ultimate example of self differentiation. He is the great “I Am.” He is who He is, and He wants me to be who He created me to be. That requires putting my focus upon His love and getting away from unhealthy attachments.

I love being a daughter, sister, mother, mother-in-law, Gigi, teacher, friend, etc., but if I cannot have an unhealthy attachment to any role. I am me, and if I fail to be the true me, no relationship, title, or possession will fill the void left in my heart. I believe it’s what Paul is trying to tell the Corinthians.  This world is not permanent, and nothing in it will last. Rather than making me sad, I should find great joy in knowing that the essence of my truest self isn’t about the things in this world. I am created for eternity, and I am free to live and love in a way that reflects that beautiful truth.

Heart in the Sand

Ruts and Loops

 

In a RutLoops and ruts make traveling easier because they force me to go where others have gone or cause me to spin mindlessly in a tight circles. God’s message this morning was that ruts and loops keep my heart from experiencing the freedom He has in mind.

Ruts are safe, and loops are a lot of fun. I’ve spent most of my journey in one or the other; as a result, I’ve found myself stuck in places and relationships that are not good for my heart. Hearts are made to spiral upward not spin in a circle or ride in a rut.

When automobiles made their way into the American lifestyle, ruts were important because they kept travelers from becoming lost in unknown territory. Roads were muddy, and ruts brought order. It’s what a rut is designed to do.

When I manage to get out of a rut, it’s difficult to get back in. I’m on my own. The same thing happens when leaving a loop. I find myself being flung away from the crowd. Fear of being alone keeps me fused to ruts and loops, and that’s exactly where God does not want me.

God doesn’t do ruts or loops even though we do our very best to get Him into ours. He will not be contained, and my heart is designed to be the same way. It isn’t supposed to ride in a rut and whirl in a loop. Hearts are made for freedom, and love is the most freeing force in existence. Christ proved that on the cross.

As folks were making plans for Thanksgiving yesterday, I felt left out because I wasn’t included in any of them. That happens a lot since my daughter-in-law’s family resides in another state. I understand the predicament, but that doesn’t make it hurt any less. I went to bed feeling out of the loop and sorry for myself, once again. My thoughts dig a deep rut in my heart if I’m not careful with them. They are a lot like a plow out of control!

I decided to give my thoughts to God before I went to bed last night.  I slept peacefully and woke feeling wonderful and smiling at the humor of the situation. God assured me this morning that being out of the loop is exactly where He wants me to be. If I have any sense at all, it’s also where I should want to be.

Holidays are the worst time for ruts and loops. Hearts get hurt, and folks are left out of or overwhelmed by the crowd. Self differentiation is the key to living and loving as God desires. He wants me to stay connected  and love in ways that allow my heart and the hearts of those I love to be free.

God held my thoughts last night and changed my mind with His images of cars in ruts and kids on coasters. Both helped me nudge a little nearer to where I need to be.

roller-coaster

Circle Up the Wagons!

Circle Up the Wagons

I was a surprised by the image of a wagon train circling up on the prairie this morning, but I’m learning not to question God when He’s teaching a lesson. In the wild west, circling up the wagons was necessary for the safety of those traveling through dangerous territory. It is an effective strategy for keeping that which isn’t desirable from getting in and that which is precious from getting out.  It formed a tight-knit community of travelers and probably saved many lives.

In this day and age, the technique doesn’t work. In fact, it acts as a sort of bullseye for someone flying overhead. People have the tendency to clump together when threatened, and that is especially true in politics and in religion. It would be comical if it weren’t creating so much tension in our country and all around the world. It’s easy to throw a rock or fire a gun from the inside of a circle of wagons, but it’s much more difficult to love those who think differently that we do.

I get so very tired of the circled up right and left wings, and I’m sure God sighs each time a group of His children decide to circle up and make a stand. Pointing fingers instead of guns, the circles hurl insults and accusations toward one another while trying to get others into their circle. When God looks down upon the circles, I’m sure His heart breaks. He knows the best way to love is to let others be who they are. Christ didn’t circle up the wagons even though His followers were chomping at the bit for Him to do just that. “Let’s rain some fire down on them Lord!” was the fervent cry then, and it is the fervent cry now.

Having to be right and in control is at the heart of circling up in the political arena, and the same themes abound in the world of faith. I grow so weary of folks worrying about that which differentiates us. Self-differentiation is what God desires. He says clearly, “I AM.” He expects us to be who we are and to love each other not only despite our differences, but because of them. God forbid that we should all circle up one day and spew the same rhetoric.

Circling up the wagons is a great example of what fusion does to relationships. It was good for the pioneers to lock hands and stay very close when danger threatened them, but it is terrible for God’s children and shows a lack of faith in Him. Self-differentiation enables growth in our individual relationships with God and one another. When I feel the wagons circling up, I quickly look for a crack to slide through before the circle becomes a noose. I don’t mind if you are on a bandwagon or in a wagon train, just don’t expect me to be on or in it with you. Love me for who I am, not for what I believe. I have my own unique way of loving and living in this world, and I’m learning it’s best to stay away from those tight-knit circles if I want to love as God desires.

Spiraling Upward

Pastor John helped me see that the path takes an upward spiral when walking in God’s kingdom and connecting as He desires. For someone who has gone in circles most of her life, the circular part of the pattern is familiar, but spiraling upward was more difficult for me to grasp. God used the vivid image of Lillyann and Mylah navigating the stairs to help me understand His lesson. The big difference in spiraling upward is that each time I come full circle, I nudge a nearer to God. The hard part is a willingness to move on to the next step. The great news is that I’m not alone. The Holy Spirit and dear friends encourage me to move upward. The sobering lesson is that I can easily spiral downward if I allow my attention to move away from God.

The last lesson on the path to the praying life hurt me very deeply, but it gave me the courage I needed to spiral upward. I must choose if I will spiral upward or downward on this journey. Hesitating on the step last week almost caused me to fall. Little Mylah is finding the same to be true as she navigates the stairway.

Connecting and traveling on the path to the praying life is about self differentiation and love. As I become who I am truly meant to be with the help of the Holy Spirit and those dear friends with whom I have honest communion, I come full circle and nudge a little nearer to God and others. Some do not appreciate the spiral and prefer bringing me down. The Holy Spirit enabled me to break free of the need to please and reach a new place of loving and praying. With His help, I am able to pray at a new level. It’s what spiraling upward is all about. As I learn to pray as Christ, I am able to let go of hurt.

Praying for those who hurt me may never make a difference in them, but it really does make a difference in me. I don’t have to fix or persuade anyone; I just have to extend lovingkindness, and the Holy Spirit will do the rest. It was a powerful lesson, but I suppose I shouldn’t have been surprised. Satan brought out the big guns last week, and my heart suffered as I forgot Who’s in charge and tried to handle what only God can handle. Not everyone is happy with the changes that enable me to spiral upward. I was concerned when little Mylah insisted on walking up the stairs before I thought she was ready. She would not back down, and I’m so thankful she didn’t let my fear keep her from moving up:)

I marvel at how God teaches, and pray I let Him guard my heart and the hearts of those I love dearly because guarding hearts is the work of the Holy Spirit. That was clear as God prepared my heart to pray as He desires. I’m not sure where the lessons will lead next, but I know living out the lessons in loving and praying will always be a big part of this beautiful journey.

God used the image of the winding staircase at the center of our new home to help me see that the path to the praying life is one that spirals upward. Walking in God’s kingdom is better with company, and seeing Lillyann encourage Mylah to keep trying reminded me that a little lovingkindness from a friend goes a long way when it comes to getting to that next step:)

Spiraling Upward Together